Priesthood: August 2008 Archives

Give Us Priests Who Are On Fire

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Our friends at WorldPriest offer the following reflection on this prayer dear to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face:

Saint Thérèse's devotion to the Priesthood is to be found in all its fullness in a prayer which she used to say daily and which she learnt off by heart; this is all the more remarkable in view of her known distaste for lengthy set forms of prayer.

O Holy Father,
may the torrents of love
flowing from the sacred wounds of Thy Divine Son
bring forth priests like unto the beloved disciple John
who stood at the foot of the Cross;
priests: who as a pledge of Thine own most tender love
will lovingly give Thy Divine Son to the souls of men.

May Thy priests be faithful guardians of Thy Church,
as John was of Mary, whom he received into his house.
Taught by this loving Mother who suffered so much on Calvary,
may they display a mother's care and thoughtfulness
towards Thy children.
May they teach souls to enter into close union with Thee
through Mary who, as the Gate of Heaven,
is specially the guardian of the treasures of Thy Divine Heart.

Give us priests who are on fire, and who are true children of Mary,
priests who will give Jesus to souls
with the same tenderness and care
with which Mary carried the Little Child of Bethlehem.

Mother of sorrows and of love,
out of compassion for Thy beloved Son,
open in our hearts deep wells of love,
so that we may console Him
and give Him a generation of priests formed in thy school
and having all the tender thoughtfulness of thine own spotless love.

Il est là!

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L'abbaye aux puces

Twenty-nine summers ago, my dear friend Père Jacob, O.P. (not yet a Friar Preacher) and I were on a kind of back-packing pilgrimage in France that allowed us to discover all sorts of holy people, places, and things. At one point we stayed in the "hôtellerie" of a certain famous monastery only to discover that the beds were inhabited by . . . fleas! I should have guessed as much when I noticed that there were cats lolling about on most of the beds and freely roaming the hallways.

One of the goals of our pilgrimage was to seek the intercession of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney at Ars. For both of us, the priesthood we so desired seemed an almost unattainable dream. We wanted Saint Jean-Marie Vianney on our side.

The Baron with the Purple Hair

We hitchhiked (in the rain) from "l'abbaye aux puces" (the Abbey of the Fleas) to Ars. At one point a shiny black sedan stopped for us; the youngish driver, being frightfully avant-garde, had a bright purple streak of hair. He was very "sympathique," and drove us right to the door of the basilica of Ars. As I extended my hand to thank him for the lift, he gave me his card. He was the Baron de R., a scion of one of Europe's most famous banking dynasties. Who would have known?

Guitars at Ars

We washed our clothes in Ars and, once liberated from the fleas, were able to make our devotions to Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. Oh, one more thing -- there was a "rock" Mass going on in the basilica. Very upsetting. I looked at the Curé of Ars reclining in his glass reliquary, fully expecting him to turn over at any moment. But he didn't.

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The Preacher Belongs to the Word

The Word does not belong to the preacher; the preacher belongs to the Word. This was true of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, it was true of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, and it is true of today's saint, the holy parish priest Jean-Marie Vianney. The Curé of Ars stands in a long line of preachers possessed by the Word, and compelled to speak it without compromise.

Incendiary Preaching

Jean-Marie Vianney was not particularly eloquent; he preached in a cracked and broken voice, but his words communicated the fire of the Holy Spirit. Even the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, the Dominican Père Lacordaire, fell silent before the charism of holy preaching in Jean Marie Vianney.

John Paul and Jean-Marie

When the Curé of Ars spoke of the Sacrament of the Altar, he glowed. He communicated to his hearers the Eucharistic fire that burned in his own heart. Twenty-two years ago, Pope John Paul II devoted his Holy Thursday Letter to Priests to Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. I think that today we can read that letter as one saint talking about another. This is what Pope John Paul II said:

The Eucharist was at the very center of Saint Jean Vianney's spiritual life and pastoral work. He said: "All good works put together are not equivalent to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the Holy Mass is the work of God." It is in the Mass that the sacrifice of Calvary is made present for the Redemption of the world. Clearly, the priest must unite the daily gift of himself to the offering of the Mass: "How well a priest does, therefore, to offer himself to God in sacrifice every morning!" "Holy Communion and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are the two most efficacious actions for obtaining the conversion of hearts."

Recollection and Adoration

Thus the Mass was for John Mary Vianney the great joy and comfort of his priestly life. He took great care, despite the crowds of penitents, to spend more than a quarter of an hour in silent preparation. He celebrated with recollection, clearly expressing his adoration at the consecration and communion. He accurately remarked: "The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!"



Apostolic Exhortation Given by Pope Saint Pius X on August 4, 1908

Pope Saint Pius X wrote this Apostolic Exhortation entirely in his own hand, and addressed it to all the clergy of the Catholic Church on the occasion of his own Golden Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood. In it he set forth his own vision of priestly holiness; he revealed the paternal anguish of his heart over the crisis that, at the time of the Modernist crisis, affected so many priests. This Apostolic Exhortation is, in many ways, as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. Pope Saint Pius X recommended it to his brother bishops, saying: "We opened our heart to all sacred ministers in this document; make it your business to recall it and explain it for the benefit of the clerics for whom you are responsible."[2] The priest readers of Vultus Christi will, I think, find this Apostolic Exhortation inspiring and comforting.

He Opens His Heart to Priests

Deeply imprinted upon our mind are those dread words which the Apostle of the gentiles wrote to the Hebrews to remind them of the obedience which they owed to their superiors: They keep watch as having to render an account of your souls.[3]

These grave words apply, no doubt, to all who have authority in the Church, but they apply in a special way to us who, despite our unworthiness, by the grace of God exercise supreme power within the Church. Therefore, with unceasing solicitude, our thoughts and endeavors are constantly directed to the promotion of the well-being and growth of the flock of the Lord.

Our first and chief concern is that all who are invested with the priestly ministry should be in every way fitted for the discharge of their responsibilities. For we are fully convinced that it is here that hope lies for the welfare and progress of religious life.

Hence it is that, ever since our elevation to the office of supreme Pontiff, we have felt it a duty, notwithstanding the manifest and numerous proofs of the high quality of the clergy as a whole, to urge with all earnestness our venerable brethren the bishops of the whole catholic world, to devote themselves unceasingly and efficaciously to the formation of Christ in those who, by their calling, have the responsibility of forming Christ in others.[4]

We are well aware of the eagerness with which the episcopate have carried out this task. We know the watchful care and unwearied energy with which they seek to form the clergy in the ways of virtue, and for this we wish not so much to praise them as to render them public thanks.

Erring and Lukewarm Priests

But though it is a matter for congratulation that, as a result of the diligence of the bishops, so many priests are animated by heavenly fervor to rekindle or strengthen in their souls the flame of divine grace which they received by the imposition of hands, we must deplore the fact that there are others in different countries who do not show themselves worthy to be taken as models by the christian people who rightly look to them for a genuine model of christian virtue.[5]

It is to these priests that we wish to open our heart in this Letter; it is a father's loving heart which beats anxiously as he looks upon an ailing child. Our love for them inspires us to add our own appeal to the appeals of their own bishops. And while our appeal is intended above all to recall the erring to the right path and to spur the lukewarm to fresh endeavor, we would wish it to serve as an encouragement to others also. We point out the path which each one must strive to follow with constantly growing fervor, so that he may become truly a man of God,[6] as the Apostle so concisely expresses it, and fulfill the legitimate expectations of the Church.

We have nothing to say which you have not already heard, no doctrine to propound that is new to anyone; but we treat of matters which it is necessary for everyone to bear in mind, and God inspires us with the hope that our message will not fail to bear abundant fruit.

Put on the New Man

Our earnest appeal to you is this: Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and sanctity of truth;[7] that will be the most excellent and most acceptable gift which you could offer to us on this fiftieth anniversary of our ordination.

For our own part, when we review before God with a contrite heart and in a spirit of humility[8] the years passed in the priesthood, we will feel that we are making reparation in some measure for the human frailties which we have cause to regret, by thus admonishing and exhorting you to walk worthily of God, in all things pleasing.[9]

In this exhortation, it is not your personal welfare alone that we are striving to secure, but the common welfare of catholic peoples; the one cannot be separated from the other. For the priest cannot be good or bad for himself alone; his conduct and way of life have far-reaching consequences for the people. A truly good priest is an immense gift wherever he may be.


Therefore, beloved sons, we will begin this exhortation by stimulating you to that sanctity of life which the dignity of your office demands.

Anyone who exercises the priestly ministry exercises it not for himself alone, but for others. For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in the things that pertain to God.[10] Christ himself taught that lesson when he compared the priest to salt and to light, in order to show the nature of the priestly ministry. The priest then is the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Everyone knows that he fulfills this function chiefly by the teaching of christian truth; and who can be unaware that this ministry of teaching is practically useless if the priest fails to confirm by the example of his life the truths which he teaches? Those who hear him might say, insultingly it is true, but not without justification: They profess that they know God but in their works they deny him;[11] they will refuse to accept his teaching and will derive no benefit from the light of the priest.

The Model of Priests

Christ himself, the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach.[12]

Likewise, a priest who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way. Hence Christ, continuing this comparison, calls such priests salt that has lost its savor, which is good for nothing any more, but to be cast out and to be trodden on by men.[13]

These truths are all the more evident inasmuch as we exercise the priestly ministry not in our own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ. The Apostle said: Let man so consider us as the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God;[14] for Christ, therefore, we are ambassadors.[15] This is the reason that Christ has numbered us not among his servants but as his friends. I will not now call you servants; . . . but I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever I have heard from my Father I have made known to you; . . . I have chosen you and appointed you that you should go and bring forth fruit.[16]

Friends and Envoys of Jesus Christ

We have, therefore, to take the place of Christ: the mission which he has given to us we must fulfill with that same purpose that he intended. True friendship consists in unity of mind and will, identity of likes and dislikes; therefore, as friends of Jesus Christ, we are bound to have that mind in us which was in Jesus Christ who is holy, innocent, undefiled.[17] As his envoys, we must win the minds of men for his doctrine and his law by first observing them ourselves; sharing as we do in his power to deliver souls from the bondage of sin, we must strive by every means to avoid becoming entangled in these toils of sin.

The Hand, Mouth, and Tongue of the Priest

But it is particularly as the ministers of Jesus Christ in the great sacrifice which is constantly renewed with abiding power for the salvation of the world, that we have the duty of conforming our minds to that spirit in which he offered himself as an unspotted victim to God on the altar of the Cross. In the Old Law, though victims were only shadowy figures and symbols, sanctity of a high degree was demanded of the priest; what then of us, now that the victim is Christ himself? "How pure should not he be who shares in this sacrifice! More resplendent than the sun must be the hand that divides this Flesh, the mouth that is filled with spiritual fire, the tongue that is reddened by this Blood!"[18]

He Has Placed Heaven in My Hand

Saint Charles Borromeo gave apt expression to this thought when, in his discourses to the clergy, he declared: "If we would only bear in mind, dearly beloved brethren, the exalted character of the things that the Lord God has placed in our hands, what unbounded influence would not this have in impelling us to lead lives worthy of ecclesiastics! Has not the Lord placed everything in my hand, when he put there his only-begotten Son, coeternal and coequal with himself? In my hand he has placed all his treasures, his sacraments, his graces; he has placed there souls, than whom nothing can be dearer to him; in his love he has preferred them to himself, and redeemed them by his Blood; he has placed heaven in my hand, and it is in my power to open and close it to others . . . How, then, can I be so ungrateful for such condescension and love as to sin against him, to offend his honor, to pollute this body which is his? How can I come to defile this high dignity, this life consecrated to his service?"

Holiness of Life

It is well to speak at greater length on this holiness of life, which is the object of the unfailing solicitude of the Church. This is the purpose for which seminaries have been founded; within their walls young men who hope to be priests are trained in letters and other branches of learning, but even more important is the training in piety which they also receive there from their tender years. And then, when the Church gradually and at long intervals promotes candidates to Orders, like a watchful parent she never fails to exhort them to sanctity.

It is a source of joy to recall her words on these occasions.

When we were first enrolled in the army of the Church, she sought from us the formal declaration: The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.[19] St. Jerome tells us that with these words "the cleric is reminded that one who is the portion of the Lord, or who has the Lord as his portion, must show himself to be such a one as possesses the Lord and is possessed by him."[20]

Exemplary Chastity

How solemnly the Church addresses those who are about to be promoted sub-deacons! "You must consider repeatedly and with all attention the office which of your own volition you seek to-day . . . if you receive this Order, you cannot afterwards revoke your decision, you must remain always in the service of God and, with his help, observe chastity." And finally: "If up to now you have been negligent in relation to the Church, henceforth you must be diligent; if hitherto you have been somnolent, henceforth you must be vigilant . . . if up to now your life has been unseemly, henceforth you must be chaste; . . . Consider the ministry which is entrusted to you!" For those who are about to be raised to the diaconate, the Church prays to God through the mouth of the bishop: "May they have in abundance the pattern of every virtue, authority that is unassuming, constancy in chastity, the purity of innocence, and the observance of spiritual discipline. May thy commands shine forth through their conduct, and may the people find a saintly model in their exemplary chastity."

The Fragrance of Your Life

The admonition addressed to those who are about to be ordained priests is even more moving: "It is with great fear that one must approach this high dignity, and care must be taken that those chosen for it are recommended by heavenly wisdom, blameless life and sustained observance of justice . . . Let the fragrance of your life be a joy to the Church of Christ, so that by your preaching and example you may build up the house, that is, the family of God." Above all the Church stresses the solemn words: Imitate that which you handle, an injunction which fully agrees with the command of St. Paul: That we may present every man perfect in Jesus Christ.[21]

Avoid Even Venial Faults

Since this is the mind of the Church on the life of a priest, one cannot be surprised at the complete unanimity of the Fathers and Doctors on this matter; it might indeed be thought that they are guilty of exaggeration, but a careful examination will lead to the conclusion that they taught nothing that was not entirely true and correct. Their teaching can be summarized thus: there should be as much difference between the priest and any other upright man as there is between heaven and earth; consequently, the priest must see to it that his life is free not merely from grave faults but even from the slightest faults.[22] The Council of Trent made the teaching of these venerable men its own when it warned clerics to avoid" even venial faults which in their case would be very grave."[23] These faults are grave, not in themselves, but in relation to the one who commits them; for to him, even more than to the sacred edifice, are applicable the words: Holiness becometh thy house.[23]a

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory